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Save teacher jobs, crowd tells Manchester aldermen

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 02. 2012 11:43PM

MANCHESTER - Now is not the time for more than 160 layoffs, dozens of parents and teachers told the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night.

'How is Manchester going to be competitive? Do we want to attract young families to the city?' asked parent Lenore Vaillancourt, one of a crowd of 200 that crammed into the Aldermanic Chambers, stood in the aisles and in the hallway outside.

All but one of the more than 70 people who spoke said Mayor Ted Gatsas' proposed school budget severely under-funds education.

'The Manchester School District is at the bottom of the list when it comes to (standardized test) scores and you want to decrease the budget?' Vaillancourt said. 'The Manchester school system needs as much money as possible moving forward. Let's instead save some teachers ... instead of redesigning a public golf course.'

She was referring to the $250,000 Gatsas proposed for repairs to the Derryfield Country Club. The Derryfield - as well as $435,000 proposed for new recycling toters and money set aside for downtown sidewalks - were criticized by many who felt the money should go to saving teacher jobs.

Gatsas' budget includes $133 million for city services, $150 million for the Manchester School District and a 1.41 percent tax increase. On the city side, the layoffs are limited to six in the Highway Department and could be eliminated if the department unions make concessions. The budget also calls for hiring more police officers.

The school board is requesting $152 million, but Gatsas has proposed flat-funding the school district by allotting $150 million from the general fund. To stay within the tax cap, the Manchester School District must cut $10 million to $12 million in staffing and current programs. Gatsas has said an estimated $5 million could be saved through school union concessions.

But Ben Dick, president of the Manchester Education Association, said that school union contracts were voted on by both the school board and Board of Aldermen and should be honored.

'As we often do, tonight my colleagues and I are decked in red as a sign of solidarity,' said Dick. 'I think black would have been a more appropriate choice because I believe we may be witnessing the death of education as we know it in the city of Manchester, and I don't say that lightly.'

Republican state Rep. Tammy Simmons was the only person who urged the aldermen to keep down spending.

'Again we're talking about how the schools are going to collapse unless we give them more even though they are dropping the number of students every year,' said Simmons. 'People just can't afford to keep spending more money. We all know if the budget goes up, it comes out of taxpayer money.'

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